March 16, 2015
By Eva-Marie Ayala,, Staff Writer

AUSTIN — Officials from state’s Republican and Democratic parties spoke out in a House committee hearing Monday against a bill that would eliminate straight-party voting.

But the bill’s author Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, said doing away with such an option would lead to more informed voters and improve turnout for nonpartisan ballot measures. He noted that the national trend has been to eliminate straight-ticket voting; Texas is one of only 10 states to continue the practice, he said.

In 2014, 4.7 million votes were cast in the governor’s race but only 4 million votes were cast for a transportation proposition also on the ballot, a 15 percent drop-off, Simmons said.

Straight-party tickets have been cited by some for down-ballot candidates, especially judges, winning elections without their qualifications being considered.

But Glenn Maxey of the Texas Democratic Party said Dallas and Harris counties in particular would have long ballots because of the numerous judges in those areas. That could discourage voters, he said.

“People are going to be standing in line for hours and hours because it’s going to take people not 10 minutes to vote but a half hour to do that kind of marking,” he said.

Maxey, however, did note that his party is split on the issue. Many Democrats in rural counties favored the bill because they felt individuals would be more likely to get voter consideration for down-ballot posts such as justices of the peace, he said.

Likewise Bill Fairbrother, of the Texas Republican County Chairman Association, said his group is narrowly against the bill, too, for similar reasons. He added that cost is a concern.

“Think of all the additional machines, clerks, polling places. … That instead of being able to click one box to take care of those races, you have to go back and choose on average 25 separate races,” he said.

Some independent voters favor the bill, saying that, if 40 other states can figure it out, surely Texas can, too.

“It will — in a small way at least — place more importance on individual candidates rather than the simplistic party versus party, ‘us versus them’ politics as usual,” said Mark Miller, of the state’s Libertarian Party.

Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, filled a similar bill that would eliminate straight-party voting in the largest counties for judges and county offices.

Follow Eva-Marie Ayala on Twitter at @evamarieayala.

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